A town named Nogales can be found on both sides of the U.S. and Mexico border. Separated by a 20-foot wall, the two cities share similar cultural aspects, but the journey from Nogales, Mexico to Nogales, Arizona, can be fatal for migrants who attempt to cross.
Yet, with the promise of family and opportunity on the other side, migrants cross from Mexico each day. Though they may be deported back, places like the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) are there to provide humanitarian assistance and advocate for the rights of the migrants.
“You’re going to do whatever it takes, even if it means losing your life, to be reunited with your family,” said KBI volunteer, Daniela Vargas.
This summer, Creighton University students documented daily life on the U.S.-Mexico border, the people who live there, the migrants passing through and the work of KBI volunteers. Through the Backpack Journalism program, 12 students interviewed migrants, activists and volunteers, like Vargas, creating mini-documentary, “El Deportado,” which premiered at Creighton on Oct. 25.
Backpack Journalism is a collaborative, immersive, five-week program led by theology professor John O’Keefe, PhD, journalism department chair Carol Zuegner, PhD, and journalism professor Tim Guthrie, MFA, during which students produce a mini-documentary telling a story of marginalized people.
Since 2010, Backpack Journalism has produced five documentaries. Each Backpack Journalism documentary focuses on incorporating elements of theology within greater societal issues, highlighting the Catholic Church’s mission at the margins.
“I knew from the start that my passion for social justice was about to grow,” writes senior Maria Corpuz, blogging about her experience on the Backpack Journalism trip.
For two weeks, students stayed in a Jesuit residence in Arizona, visiting their host, KBI in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. After filming was completed, they returned to Omaha for two weeks to edit film, and create a cohesive story for their documentary.
Nico Sandi, a 2015 Creighton graduate, first took part in Backpack Journalism as a student in 2014 and returned as the director of photography for the 2016 project. Sandi believes filmmaking can give a voice to the voiceless. He says the current film is meant to sensitize viewers to the complex issues around immigration.
“Within that complexity, these people are human beings and they deserve fair treatment, and a dignified treatment,” says Sandi, who is producing documentaries in a two-year graduate program at Stanford University.
Zuegner says students see the world differently after participating in Backpack Journalism. Reflecting on the trip during a Q&A session following the film premiere, sophomore Matthew Eastmo said, “Treating people with mercy and kindness is not complicated at all.”
“Every nation has the right to protect their border, but not at the expense of human dignity,” Eastmo said, emphasizing the words of the Rev. Sean Carroll, SJ, executive director of KBI.
Backpack Journalism received funding as part of the Creighton Global Initiative (CGI) – an effort by Creighton President the Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, SJ, to enrich and embrace the University’s global focus. More than 30 campus proposals were awarded nearly $1.5 million in funding in April through CGI.
“El Deportado” will be shown to Jesuit university and high school students from across the nation during the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, from Nov. 12-14 in Washington, D.C.